Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A Writer's Code

Many, many, far too many, years ago, I had to take an oath.

I’d just finished my law degree and in order to practice I, and whole bunch of fresh-faced law students, had to take part in an Admissions Ceremony held in the Supreme Court of South Australia. It was a very serious affair – think barristers and judges in billowing black robes, lace stocks at their throats, white wigs upon their heads. Nervous, young, lawyers-to-be, milling about quietly, lambs before the slaughter.

Standing before the judges of the Supreme Court, our sponsoring barristers beside us, we each had to take an oath that went something like this:-

“I do promise and swear that I will diligently and honestly perform the duties of a practitioner of this Court and will faithfully serve and uphold the administration of justice under the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Australia and the laws of this State and of the other States and Territories of Australia. So help me God.”

And after that we signed our names in a big old ledger book, The Roll of Practitioners. I hope there’s never any cause to verify my signature, because my hand was shaking so hard by this point I’m sure all that came out was little more than kindergarten scribble ...

So, all rather sobering stuff. But necessary. Up until that point, studying for exams and planning which hotels to swim through on our law school pub crawls was about as serious as we got. This was the big time. This was for real. This really meant something. And taking that oath really made us focus on what being a lawyer was ultimately all about.

Should we writers also take an oath? Well, perhaps not an oath – that’s a little to dull and legal – but maybe, each have our own writer’s code? A set of maxims to help us focus on what it is about writing that is important, to each of us? It strikes me that maybe we should. Especially when we get to the point where we want to take our writing from being an enjoyable hobby to being published and maybe, just maybe, the means to make a living. A writer's code would help keep your aim straight; and at the very least, a code would remind you why you ever started to write on the days when it all seems too hard.

Here's what I reckon I would include in my very own writer's code. In no particular order:-

  • Write every day. Even when I really, really, really, don’t want to, and even if it's only ten words.
  • Try at all times to write the best I can. Don’t be content with sloppy work.
  • But remember that sloppy work can always be fixed.
  • Listen to criticism. Really listen.
  • Read novels for enjoyment, but read to learn, too.
  • Critique the work of others honestly, but with kindness and encouragement.
  • Remember to fill my creative well by enjoying things that are not writing-related.
  • Never, ever, think I know everything.
  • Remember that bad writing days are a fact of the writing life.
  • Do not compare myself to others. Ever.
  • Write for the "reader".
  • Write for myself.
  • Write for the love of it.
  • Have patience.
  • Have patience.
  • Have patience.

What do you think you would include in your own Writer’s Code?


  1. What a great idea! I love your writer's code. I might add, "Remember that even great writers have faced rejection." And a few more of those, "Have patience"s :)

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Oops. Let's try this again. My dyslexia got by me that time.

    Lovely post! Have patience and Remember, sloppy writing can be fixed are important for me.

  4. Yay for the code! :) I'll take yours. And add: do not be afraid. Fear often holds me back on all sorts of things. Being free of it makes a world of difference.

  5. Ohh, I like do not be afraid. Add that and I'll take the oath.

  6. I think "write for the love of it" definitely comes first :) (Drink for the need of it, next :P).

    Then "thou shalt not reward thyself for the endeth of chapters with a half bag of pretzels."

  7. Patience, yes. I think for me that's linked to the "don't compare yourself to others". Why do I always feel the need to rush?
    Brilliant post, Rachel!

  8. Ah Rachel, I LOVE your oath! Can I have it, too? (Plus Kristen's Do Not Be Afraid.)

    Lots of great wisdom here - all summed up so succinctly.


  9. @ Susanna - thank you. And a most excellent and wise addition, too.

  10. @ Zan Marie - oh yes, to my detriment, I regularly struggle with having enough patience. That's why I listed it thrice. ;-)

  11. @ Kristen - another great suggestion. Fear is definitely something to be fought. Back in the day, when I read heaps of sci-fi, some of my favourite books were Frank Herbert's DUNE series. In it, he had a "litany against fear", used by some of his characters. Completely fictional, but it has always stuck in my mind:-

    "I must not fear.
    Fear is the mind-killer.
    Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
    I will face my fear.
    I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
    And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
    Where the fear has gone there will be nothing......Only I will remain"

    Pretty cool, no?

  12. @ S.P. - added. And now you're duly signed up. Congrats! lol

    @ Lucy - lol, oh, I do like those. But for me, instead of pretzels, it'd be chocolate. Sigh.

  13. @ Deniz - thanks! For me, the need to rush always comes on when I forget about the process and only look towards the end game. And that never works out well.

  14. @ Susan - thank you, my dear. I'll sign you up, of course. Strength in numbers, you know. :-)

  15. Great code! And yes, I think all writers should have something they follow in order to keep them on track. And patience is key!

  16. @ Mary Mary - thank you. :-) And boy, oh boy, have I been trying to exercise that patience! My kids are on the very last day of their nearly 3 week school break, and my writing has definitely suffered from neglect (especially today, when I have somehow ended up with five boys plus my daughter in the house - oi!) Lovely to have the time with the kids, but very frustrating on the writing front. Le sigh.